On the utility of pragmatists…

Malachi O’Doherty considers the lessons of the peace process, and ultimately concludes that the engagement of pragmatists was key to its success, from a government point of view at least:

For decades it was assumed that the Northern Ireland conflict was beyond resolution because the demands of the opposing militants were too high. Every effort that was made to secure a compromise in the political middle ground was scuppered by Paisleyism and republicanism, yet a deal became possible when each had ascended to the leadership of the community from which it sprang.

The second lesson, surely, must be one for a political militants themselves. To secure a political popularity they must not impose too great a strain on the society they claim to represent, and they must show themselves amenable to compromise. Then, usually, people will be so excited at the prospect of universal love breaking out that they will support them and encourage them. Victim societies are extraordinarily forgiving.

Another lesson for militants and state security forces: don’t kill anybody unless you really have too. Especially, do not kill the leaders of the militant groups. If you want leaders to be able to control the whole movement underneath them, then you have to leave them in place for long enough to secure credibility and influence. Don’t fragment an enemy you ultimately hope to negotiate with.

Extremes that can’t be defeated have to be included. Trust, therefore, that they will ultimately want to be included, for they will have no option anyway. Extremes are always political minorities and can only make progress by moving towards accommodating the will of the majority.

  • Surely some flaws in this analysis?

    Malachi is clearly citing the DUP and Sinn Fein as being the various extremes on either side. He then concludes that;

    “Extremes are always political minorities and can only make progress by moving towards accommodating the will of the majority”.

    Neither the DUP or SF could be remotely considered as political minorities. They had a combined total of almost 57% of the electorate in the recent Assembly Elections.

    Therfore it was the parties who represented the vast MAJORITY of the electorate here who ultimately made this agreement. Both made huge sacrifices but are still committed to their core principles. i.e Union with Britain or alternatively Irish Unity.

    Sometimes credit should (and indeed must) be awarded to those who actually deserve it…

  • The Dubliner

    Oh well would you look at this… tosspots who took 13 years of nitpicking, whinging, blackmail, threats, and begging to arrive at a place that is 33 years in the past, arriving via decades of senseless sectarian slaughter that none of the powers-that-be nor the murderers-that-be one had a clue what to do about, are suddenly to be held up as perfect templates that the whole wide world should learn noble lessons from…rather than a dismal situation that was only resolved by handing over political power to the terrorists and to the bigots so that they might cease and desist if they got their snouts into the state’s Big Bag of Goodies. Lord spare us.

    The only lesson to be learned is don’t reward murderers and don’t vote crimimal sociopaths into positions of trust.

  • Hmm…

    I can see that he’s unhappy about the length of time it took to get a deal, but if there’s a more specific point to all this I can’t see it. Yes, the Shinners and the Duppers wanted power (not like any other political party then) but at the end of the day, they changed their minds about their previous positions and moved to the centre. Could there have been peace any other way?

  • Shore Road Resident

    Macswiney misses the point through half-baked pedantry, again – SF and DUP were extreme minorities until the moderated enough to become majorities. That’s the whole point of the piece.

  • The Dubliner

    “For decades it was assumed that the Northern Ireland conflict was beyond resolution because the demands of the opposing militants were too high. Every effort that was made to secure a compromise in the political middle ground was scuppered by Paisleyism and republicanism, yet a deal became possible when each had ascended to the leadership of the community from which it sprang.”

    In fairness to Malachi, he doesn’t present this as a tactical strategy by government (as others have done in an attempt to reassure us that everything is going to ‘plan.’) To do so would ignore the “Save Dave” enterprise and the horror that both governments had to the emergence of two extremes of PSF and the DUP at the expense of the so-called moderates.

    The governments feared that outcome, but it came and they had to then try to tether these two jackasses together (and point them both in the same direction). Unfortunately, it was the “goodies” that Mandelson referred to that caused the extremes to flourish and the two communities to polarize. On tribe saw the other tribe being granted concessions; and whatever was granted to one tribe in that sectarian carve-up was granted at the direct expense of the other tribe. The obvious outcome is that the extremes (who are seen as less willing to compromise) gain support from the sectarian tribe that they represent.

    I don’t think you can see those two extremes sitting side-by-side as any form of historic reconciliation between the evermore polarized tribes (as others optimistically did in response to the Gerry & Ian pic): it’s simply a recognition that their power has to be maintained by the same means by which it was consolidated (at the expense of the other parties). That is keeping their snouts in the state’s Big Bag of Goodies and claiming that they’re received the biggest truffles at the expense of the other tribe. That’s pretty much how the farce will continue. It’s hardly a lesson anyone would seek to apply elsewhere.

  • TD

    macswiney,

    “They had a combined total of almost 57% of the electorate in the recent Assembly Elections.”

    “Therfore it was the parties who represented the vast MAJORITY of the electorate here who ultimately made this agreement.”

    57% = “the vast MAJORITY of the electorate” ?

    Bollox!

  • Aquifer

    Exposing the bankruptcy of their respective ideologies by offering them both power on demonstrably fair terms was pragmatic, but also a bit inspired.

    How could they rant or kill afterwards without inviting scorn or suppression?

  • “Don’t fragment an enemy you ultimately hope to negotiate with”. If this is his advice to the past-IRA, does he believe that the IRA’s goal was eventual negotiation with the British gov’t or native Unionist forces? That can’t be true can it?

  • Abdul, it was advice based on the British strategy of allowing the leaders of the IRA and loyalist groups to stay in place, when they could have killed them off the way Israel killed off successive Hamas leaders.

    The question that bothers me today is this: When did the DUP and Sinn Fein first take the measure of each other and understand that they would make a deal?

    Did they collude on the destruction of the first assembly; Paisley clearly wanted it to fall and Sinn Fein eroded it from below by messing around with spying and procrastinating on decommissioning. The two parties had the same target in their sights, David Trimble and the middle ground.
    If SF wanted the agreement to work, it was madness to jeopardise it by collapsing Trimble, unless they knew that Paisley was their safety net?
    If that is the case, then Paisley prolonged the dealock over decommissing. Or did they simply calculate that in time Paisley would realise he had nowhere to go?
    If they did not trust that Paisley would ultimately deal with them, then they were extraordinarily cavalier with the agreement.
    Did they not want the agreement to work? Then what has changed that they want it now?

  • Pete Baker

    Malachi

    “Then what has changed that they want it now?”

    David Trimble suggested an answer to that in the Irish Times today

    All of which brings us to this week’s hoped for closure. Republicans, who never wanted Stormont in the first place, will join with the DUP, who never wanted to share it with anyone, let alone them, because at the end of the day, the DUP they had nowhere else to go and could not retain their electoral support if they did nothing. Some explanations remain outstanding, but candour is not likely.

    With the added note that: Slugger has been reliably informed that the original quoted text read as corrected above, with “they” intended to refer to both parties.

  • Damien Okado-Gough

    Malachi,

    [i]The question that bothers me today is this: When did the DUP and Sinn Fein first take the measure of each other and understand that they would make a deal?[/i]

    In a private lunch briefing in mid-2004 a senior DUP man told me: “You’d be amazed how generous we’d be if only the Shinners would deliver what we’re asking.”

    It was clear to me from then that the DUP were ready for a deal. What they were asking, according to him, was decommissioning and disbandment. There was no talk of support for policing, but I’m sure that was a given even then.

    What had me wondering at the time was, how much the Doc knew about this. There had been much talk around then of the ‘two camps’ in the DUP, the Paisleyites and the Robinson supporters.

    I had surmised then that I was talking to someone from the Robinson camp, but since then I’m more inclined to think that the talk of the ‘split’ in the DUP was what the DUP was calling it, a media creation, or fantasy. However, to be fair to journalists, at time the DUP were not all singing from the same hymn sheet.

    Whilst I agree to a large extent with your analysis, my concern is what has been morally legitimised by the Peace Process. Certainly, the pragmatism employed has resulted in injustices, particularly to innocent victims. This was most evident in the attempt by both the PRM and the British government to get an amnesty for their people in the OTR legislation.

    I will not deny that the Peace Process has delivered a vastly preferable situation to what has gone before, but I can’t help but wonder could it have been done better. Could higher values have won out over the pragmatism? Could a better example for conflict resolution been provided for the world?

  • Mick Fealty

    Damien,

    “I’m more inclined to think that the talk of the ‘split’ in the DUP was what the DUP was calling it, a media creation, or fantasy.”

    That accords with my own perception. Indeed, two earlier events indicated they were serious about a negotiated solution: Robinson’s interview with Frank Millar in December 02 and the unveiling of their alternative (but mostly inclusive) proposals for devolution in Jan 04.

    I’ve a piece coming out first thing that goes back to what appears to be a sudden switch in DUP’s position in December (prompted primarily by Martin’s comments on Newsnight).

  • Roisin

    Malachi,

    [quote]The second lesson, surely, must be one for a political militants themselves. To secure a political popularity they must not impose too great a strain on the society they claim to represent,[/quote]

    That’s hardly a new lesson is it? That was apparent throughout, as it is in countless conflicts.

  • Hmm…

    If the Shinners wanted the agreement to work why collapse Trimble (or at least not do more to shore him up)? It takes two to tango, and perhaps they simply saw that Trimble couldn’t make the deal stick what with Paisley (and his fellow travellers within the UUP) loitering outside the tent. While they could have moved in order to bolster Trimble’s position, this would have been risky: there was still no guarantee that Trimble could sell the deal and the costs of having to deal with Paisley having given up all their bargaining chips would have been all too apparent.

    The sugestion that the Shinners and the DUP colluded or held everything up simply to bolster their vote may be tempting, but doesn’t convince me: the Shinners calculated that Trimble couldn’t sell the deal and had to wait for the DUP to decide that the had to risk doing a deal. I think it’s what’s called an assurance game: it just took this long for each side to trust that the other would make the right move.

  • Many of us have been wary of the DUP for a very long time. When I wrote my article for Slugger on the prospects of the post-Trimble UUP, I said that one reason for the UUP to revive was that the Punt’s people would accept what Trimble accepted in the right circumstances. What none of us realised until St Andrews was that Papa Doc himself had bought into the same analysis.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Malachi

    In answer to your question (When did the DUP and Sinn Fein first take the measure of each other and understand that they would make a deal?), I’d guess it was at Leeds Castle. It was there that the political arrangements were dealt with and agreed between SF and the DUP.

    Delays were implemented (eg SF on decommissioning initially and DUP on proof of it) for political advantage. I’d add that policing was the key issue, and once both parties realised that it was going to be resolved, a sense of realpolitik set in.

    Just my ten cents worth.